Self-care is a term that has become increasingly more common in recent years, with emphasis on health-related practices one can do at home for optimal wellness. People have been putting the emphasis on the self part of self-care, and for good reason. A study done in 2022 reported that 76% of adults have recently experienced health symptoms as a result of stress1 — another topic that’s garnered significant attention as of late. While regular doctor visits shouldn’t be forgotten when thinking of staying healthy, it’s time to put some obligation on ourselves in prioritizing at-home self-care practices to help achieve optimal wellness.
Self-care is defined by the World Health Organization as “the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a health worker.”2 As we move further into the post-pandemic era, we have found ourselves as a society getting more in tune with our physical and mental health, and how we can improve that on our own outside of the doctor’s office. Though it may be hard to find time for ourselves in our ever-busy lives, it’s beneficial to both your mental and physical health to take time for yourself. Think of it like those airplane instructions to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others; in order to take care of our families, excel at work, and frankly, function properly, it’s worth making self-care practices a priority, putting our own health first. Whether you’re focusing on maximizing your health or taking care of injuries that have occurred, here are some tips you can follow for self-care.
Relax your mind, relax your body
As we’ve already mentioned, stress is on the rise these days, so taking time to center yourself can be beneficial in many ways. In addition to helping increase relaxation and mental clarity, things like meditation, yoga, or breathing exercises can help calm down the body by activating both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system, according to NBC News. They can also help reduce heart rate and blood pressure.3 The most advantageous self-care practices for optimal wellness are the ones that benefit both your body and your mind.
Give yourself a digital break
Do you ever find yourself in front of several screens at once? Maybe you’re working on a computer, with a TV show on for background noise, while answering a message that came through your phone. Sound familiar? Screens area all around us these days. Taking a break from the digital screens in your life, especially those that allow you to access social media or the news, gives your brain a much-needed rest. “Doomscrolling” is a term that refers to the mindless scrolling you do, whether it’s on social media or through news, that exposes you to negative news, articles, or posts that alters your cognitive state. Limiting yourself on screen time will help avoid the digital distractions.
Gut health = brain health
We know that you know it’s important to eat healthy. A recent trend in healthcare as been to focus on gut health — and for good reason. The gut is known as the “second brain” because of how heavily gut health affects brain function. Your gut is responsible for 90% of serotonin production — which affects mood, sleep, and more — according to Forbes.4 So eating healthy not only helps your digestion and brain, it can positively impact other parts of your health. Focus on eating foods that promote a healthy gut and digestion, including fruits and vegetables to load you up with essential vitamins and minerals. In addition to those, healthy fats are essential to brain health, while nuts and seeds include a lot of protein and fiber.4
While we’re on the topic of eating healthy, also keep tabs on your water intake. Whether you choose to follow the recommendation for 8 glasses a day or the suggestion to consume a volume of half your body weight in ounces, make it a goal you strive to hit each day. Adequate water intake helps with digestion, protects organs and tissues, and regulates body temperature, so it’s another simple step to level up your health in a variety of ways.5 If drinking enough water is hard for you, try infusing your water with natural flavoring like lemon, lime, or cucumber, or try getting more water-filled foods in your diet like fruits, bell peppers, and celery.
Aim for good quality and quantity of sleep
Experts recommend that adults get between 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Make sure you’re getting quality sleep too — not just the right quantity. Things like going to bed at the same time each night and avoiding food or alcohol too late in the day will prevent disruptions to your sleep cycles. If you wear a smart watch that tracks sleep, pay attention to your sleep scores. When you have poorer scores, think back to what may have caused them and how you can change those habits to improve your sleep.
Regulate your exercise
Move your body in a way that’s easy and enjoyable to you. Start doing some sort of physical activity on a regular basis, even if it’s just walking. The National Institutes of Health recommend to move for at least 150 minutes per week to maintain or improve your health. In addition to helping to keep you healthy in general, regular movement may lower chances of type 2 diabetes, blood pressure, and other diseases.6 If you’re just starting out, start small. Break up walks into three 10-minute short walks each day. Be honest with yourself and start where you’re at physically and keep making small improvements.
Rebound your health after injury
When you suffer an injury, whether it’s after the aforementioned exercise or for any other reason, oftentimes the RICE — rest, ice, compression, elevation — method is recommended to help the injury heal. Prioritize self-care practices within this method by using ice packs for 15-20 minutes every few hours. You can also opt for compression wraps — snug, but not too tight that it affects blood flow and causes discoloration or numbness — especially during activity when you’ll be using the injured area. Following the RICE method can help “reduce swelling, ease pain, and speed up healing,” according to WebMD.7 It works well to help minor injuries such as knee or ankle aches and pains — as they’re body parts that support the most weight when moving — or injuries after sports such as wrist injuries or muscle strains. Keep a general stash of first aid supplies on hand to be prepared for any minor injury situation.
Remember, pain is oftentimes your body’s last signal that something is wrong. As soon as you experience the injury or ensuing pain, make sure to take care of the injured area to minimize pain and further damage. Pain is also oftentimes one of the first symptoms to go away, so even when the pain subsides, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s fully healed. Still continue to care for the area as it’s likely still healing. If you have pain that persists or gets worse, be sure to check in with your doctor.
Make sure you’re putting your health first. You deserve to make time for self-care practices. Start small with focusing on a couple of the suggestions above, and continue to add in more as you’re able. Give your mind and body the focus they deserve and you’ll be on your way to optimal wellness in no time.
- American Psychological Association. Stress in American 2022. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2022/concerned-future-inflation
- World Health Organization. Self-care interventions for health. https://www.who.int/news-room/questions-and-answers/item/self-care-interventions-for-health
- NBC News. What yoga does to your brain. https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/what-yoga-does-your-brain-ncna794531
- 10 Smart Ways To Make Self-Care A Part Of Every Meal. https://www.forbes.com/sites/nomanazish/2017/12/11/10-smart-ways-to-make-self-care-a-part-of-every-meal/?sh=69babfcf34fe
- Harvard Health Publishing. How much water should you drink? https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-much-water-should-you-drink
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Keep Active & Eat Healthy to Improve Well-being & Feel Great. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/weight-management/keep-active-eat-healthy-feel-great
- What Is the RICE Method for Injuries? https://www.webmd.com/first-aid/rice-method-injuries